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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the
Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination

Amos Yong
(Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011) 237 pages

Reviewed by Douglas F. Olena, Ph.D.
Evangel University

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Part of the recent series called Pentecostal Manifestos published by Eerdmans in the last few years, The Spirit of Creation breaks new theological ground as it attempts to corral numerous theological fields and allies into a coherent collection of writings about the Spirit’s activity in the world. Yong makes common cause with the scientist in the search for truth, and common cause with the Pentecostal theologian in their attention to various communities of faith who try to interpret the Scriptures and Christian experience in a fresh and revealing way.

Yong makes no bones about his choice of explanations where the weight of evidence points. For instance, against a common view, he favors the truth value of Pentecostal testimony of the action of God over the denial of spiritual realities by the materialist. Similarly, he favors the standard scientific model of the age of the earth over against young-earth creationism. He also gives good scriptural justification from Genesis for this choice. As with any good scholar, Yong does not wish to prejudice the results of his inquiry by avoiding scrutiny on his own and his faith community’s presuppositions. Like a radical empiricist he also doesn’t want to leave out any data of experience even though it might not be fruitful to include it for the present discussion.

Because there are many tongues and many interpretations, a wide variety of experience and explanation is not only possible but probable. Yong does not wish to close the field of experience prematurely. Certainly this is part of his defense of Pentecostal experience, but the book journeys toward a pluralism in explanation. Yong expects this eclectic and pluralistic practice to be adopted as an inclusive method.

Yong chooses pluralism of explanation over reductionism for a number of reasons. Reductionism is the practice of boiling down the data to be examined to those that fit the explanatory model. It is a way of selecting the most pertinent data. However, that selection may, and does, remove some essential part of the reality being examined and turns it into logic. The reductionist—whether of materialist, spiritualist, or literary bent—fails to see the crossovers, similarities, and common ground in observations. Yong makes every effort to convene a civil body of disparate elements so that a fruitful conversation may take place. So, prejudice is overcome in an interdisciplinarity (29) of views and practices. We can all learn from each other. Yong manages this partially by recognizing the limitations of the disciplines that participate. Theology without the cooperation of the sciences cannot interpret the reality fairly. Likewise, the scientist without theology is limited to what appears or what can be inferred from what appears in the universe, and much that makes up the universe is invisible.

One major question the materialist poses with great frequency is, “If God is spirit, then how does He interact with the universe?” This is especially important if spirit is considered to be a substance different from the universe. So he examines the Divine Action Project in an effort to gather background structures for the discussion of God’s interaction in the world. The project did not yield a consensus about Special Divine Action, but gave some useful insights. The most fruitful model Yong gleans is one that “might be called noninterventionist objective (special) divine action (NIOSDA)” (79). With some adjustments that mark out Pentecostal territory, Yong believes this proposal is probably a good starting place for discussion about God’s interaction with the universe and people.

Though The Spirit of Creation is not the first venture into concepts of special divine action, Yong offers access to a persistent idea, a necessary idea if we are to be consistent both to Scripture and science. Emergence theory, though historically plagued by attempts to suggest that complexity could only have been instigated by God, now finds a place in the pantheon of theories that though problematic, cannot be dispensed with. Under the title “Pneumatological Theology of Emergence,” Yong examines a number of proposals—Philip Clayton’s in particular—that attempt to address the spiritual necessity for emergence. Here’s the problem. Evolutionary theory, at least on a Darwinian model, is purely negative. It is a means of culling bad attempts at increased complexity. It doesn’t account for the emergence of diversity and complexity in the first place. If emergence theory is news to you, then you need to pay attention to this work. Yong’s approach is theological, but he recognizes that it includes the material grounds for life and intelligence. There are better places to start a scientific discussion of emergence. But Yong gracefully introduces a perspective that draws into natural history the persistent activity of the Holy Spirit in the universe. Emergence is the diversifying, complexifying, and ordering agent, while Darwinian evolution is the trimming and culling agent.

One interesting direction Yong takes in the book is a proposal that the Pentecostals learn something from paranormal research. Governments around the world spent millions of dollars in research aimed at quantifying psychic abilities. Currently any study whose realm is outside strict materialist boundaries is viewed as a partner with paranormal research. Here is the place where Yong’s inclusivity and interdisiplinarity pays off. It is clear to many people that there are phenomena that don’t fall into step with the materialist hypothesis. Otherwise governments would not have spent the money in the first place. But what in fact is occurring? Reductionist science doesn’t know. The mistakes of the paranormal researchers compounded their inflated promises and put their research in disrepute. Yong, as a Pentecostal, wants to avoid making the same mistakes the paranormal community did.

Activity of a spiritual nature is consistent with the testimony of many people of faith, not just Christian, but making problematic theological claims will not forward the conversation with the scientific community.

In the final chapter, Yong produces ten stable theological theses meant to solidify the gains of this generation of theologians, including capturing the sensibility of an explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world from the moment of creation. Though offered in a provisional manner, these theses connect the Scriptures and historical theology to broad Christian, and Pentecostal experience. They provide a useful and manageable starting place for a genial conversation.

Wesley J. Wildman, “The Divine Action Project, 1988–2003,” Digital Common,
http://dcommon.bu.edu/xmlui/handle/2144/904 (accessed June 6, 2012).

Terrence Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged From Matter (New York, NY: WW. Norton & Company, 2012).

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:53 AM